Audience Development

Meeting reader needs drives engaging audience experiences

reader needs
Via Unsplash

Over recent years, there have been many studies done around reader needs, each trying to help publishers define the engagement drivers that will bring audiences back to their content. From Belgium-based Mediahuis to the UK’s BBC, content producers have researched the reasons why people seek out and stay with stories.

The BBC’s User Needs Model has been widely adopted since it was developed in 2018 by Dmitry Shishkin, then digital development editor at the  BBC World Service. The aim of the original two-year project was to create an editorial strategy that would better meet the reader needs of global audiences. This resulted in a focus on six user needs:

  • Update me
    This need is served with standard news stories – stating facts, answering questions, providing details to let users know what has happened. Formats include news stories or event summaries.
  • Educate me
    Serving this need calls for content that helps users learn about key topics and understand the basics of a complicated subject. Formats include explainers, interviews and ‘How To’ articles.
  • Divert me
    Meeting this need means entertaining your users with content that will take them away from the daily grind of the news cycle. Formats include personal stories, photo galleries and humor pieces.
  • Give me perspective
    Providing perspective relies on explaining what an event means and how it can impact on users. Formats include opinion pieces, thought leadership and features that bring together a range of views.
  • Keep me on trend
    To keep users up to date with trends, content producers must report on developments in current affairs, from TV and sports to politics and the social media conversations accompanying them. Formats include social media embeds and quotes.

User needs model adapted

Since the BBC released its User Needs model it has been adapted and taken up by many publishers, including the New York Times and The Atlantic, who both changed the scope of the needs to fit the unique requirements of their newsrooms. On its Drive innovation blog, The German Press Association used the model to study engagement levels on 4000 articles.

An update to the 2018 BBC User Needs Model model adds 2 additional user needs. The refreshed User Needs Model 2.0, produced by original author Shishkin, now an independent consultant, working in partnership with analytics company SmartOcto. The update includes a guide on how to write articles that address specific user needs.

In the second version of the model, reader needs are broken down into four different types. The first three cover the users needs identified in the original model:

Know – fact driven content

Understand – context driven content

Feel – emotion driven content

The last – Do – cover the two additional user needs centered on action driven stories. These added user needs, Help me and Connect me.

Explaining the additions, the Twipe blog notes that the new user needs reflect the ‘progression’ of the demands on publishers wishing to engage and retain  readers. It says:

Help me” is a more personal user need. It addresses the desire to find information that helps users to solve a problem. “Connect me” relates to the growing desire to be constantly engaged to the world and society around us. It addresses the desire to feel part of something bigger.

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